Sunday, March 31, 2019

A Sucker for Forgiveness

 Image result for the prodigal son rembrandt
 The Return of the Prodigal Son - Rembrant

There was a huge memorial rally in Christchurch New Zealand for the victims and survivors of the recent attack on two mosques which killed 50 and injured many more. The perpetrator was a white supremacist terrorist -- its important to describe what he is.

While the musician once known as Cat Stevens, now Yusuf Islam, received attention for singing his classic Peace Train at the rally, it was the husband of one of the murdered worshipers who got the most press. Farid Ahmed says he forgives his wife's killer, that "I cannot hate him" and that he will pray for him. He survived the mass-killing, but his wife, Hosne Ahmed, was shot as she ran back into the mosque to try to save her husband, who uses a wheelchair. She was 44 years old.

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Farid Ahmed

I'm always surprised when forgiveness stories get lots of media attention. Of course this is a terrible incident which has drawn the world's focus and to hear that someone who has been so deeply wronged is willing to forgive is both impressive and mind-boggling. Perhaps it is also because the crime was motivated by hatred and Islamaphobia and Ahmed is a Muslim who is willing to forgive.

Today the lectionary gospel passage is Jesus' parable of the wayward or prodigal son who is welcomed home by his father.  It is often preached as a story of radical forgiveness and reconciliation. It is also a story of anger and un-forgiveness on the part of the son/brother who never left his father's side and from his perspective is treated unfairly.

Through the years I had many parishioners talk to me about their real-life challenges with forgiveness after preaching on this passage, and this story wasn't exactly good news for them. The wrongs and grievances they named were often significant to the extent that I wondered if I wouldn't be crushed under the weight of similar circumstances. Still, they came, not to express anger but with a desire to move to a different place in their lives which would involve forgiveness and the possibility of reconciliation. They don't want to lurk in the shadows of abundant living, as with the good son in the background of Rembrandt's iconic painting.

There was an opinion piece in the Globe and Mail newspaper before Christmas with the title Today's Forgiveness Culture is for Suckers. The author begins with the statement "The Prodigal Son’s big brother was right." Then he goes on to mock the notion of forgiveness, at least as he sees it. Well, duh, of course the stay-at-home brother was "right," in that we often have good reason to be angry about personal injustices. This is not a factual account. It is a story Jesus crafted to invite us to consider the different facets of forgiveness and not forgiving, our grievances and the challenges of letting go on the way to reconciliation. 

I wonder what the author of the piece (who doesn't deserve to be named) thinks of Farid Ahmed? Is he a sucker in his estimation? 

I'm one of the suckers who will continue the journey of Lent toward the mega-story of forgiveness, which is the cross and resurrection. I'll struggle with my own issues along the way, but I'll pray for the strength to walk with Christ.

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The Return of the Prodigal Son -- Ward Smith

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Wonder-Working Power

 Image result for last supper contemporary art
  Who Among Us by Debra Hurd

"This is my blood, shed for you..." 


There is power, power, wonder-working power
In the blood of the Lamb.
There is power, power, wonder-working power
In the precious blood of the Lamb.

There is Power in the Blood  Lewis Edgar Jones 19th C

The United Church has never been big on what you might call gory hymns with lots of blood imagery. I know the hymn above, but it may be from attending Salvation Army services with extended family. 

That said, there were some in earlier hymn resources which have faded away over time. One of the favourites in the outport Newfoundland congregations I served in the early 1980s was There is a Fountain Filled with Blood. They sang it with relish and I'm surprised they didn't adopt a Transylvanian accent:

There is a fountain filled with blood,
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins,
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains:
Lose all their guilty stains,
Lose all their guilty stains;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains.

 Holy haematoma! Christ's fountain-like shed blood is not an image for the faint of heart. 

And yet...this season of Lent ends in blood, a commemoration and beginning at the Last Supper. And the Good Friday/Black Friday crucifixion is, well, crucial to our faith. 

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We have a dear friend who just this week received a mid-Lenten stem cell transplant which is crucial to her health because her blood is sick, to put it simply. Stem cells are found in the bone marrow and they turn into red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. The introduced stem cells can "kick-start" production for someone whose body has lost the ability to produce them. Donors need to be younger and they don't usually know the recipients. Giving stem cells is an act of practical generosity with enormous implications for those who receive them. 

We may not be comfortable with the "bloody" imagery of some of the hymns of our Christian faith anymore but the "blood of the Lamb" should never be pushed into the background to create a Christianity-lite. The gift of blood is real, in so many ways, and for all these gifts we can be grateful. There is wonder-working power in the blood.



Friday, March 29, 2019

By Chance Alone and the Importance of Memory

 by chance alone
It has been several years since I listened in on the CBC radio Canada Reads contest. It was entertaining in earlier years but seemed to become more abrasive and yell-y latterly, as earnest biblio-defenders duked it out with one another. I did read last year's winner, Forgiveness, by Mark Sakamoto and it was worthwhile. 

 I happened to hear a few minutes of yesterday's episode, including the final vote which resulted in Max Eisen's memoir By Chance Alone being declared the winner. Eisen recently turned 90 and this is a book about Eisen as a Holocaust/Shoah survivor as well as being a tribute to the parents and siblings who perished. Eisen was a Holocaust educator for 25 years before he wrote his memoir, and his presence in classrooms must have been powerful. I met another survivor years ago as she was in our community to visit schools and it was both a gentle and meaningful encounter.

Some of the Canada Reads contestants cited the importance of keeping before Canadians a story of terrible evil and those who are now very few in number who overcame unimaginable loss to survive and thrive. Eisen emigrated to Canada in 1948 with virtually nothing and became a successful businessman. In his own words:

While I was able to create a life and family for myself here in Canada and put the anger and pain behind me, my past never left me. In my final goodbye to my father in Auschwitz, he had told me to survive so that I could tell the story of my family. This always stayed with me in the back of my mind.

This spotlight on one Shoah memoir also reminds us that the Canadian government was anti-Jewish in some of its decisions, as were many individual Canadians. We are also aware that in a time of emboldened white supremacy we need to be vigilant in upholding the rights of all. Communities of faith coming together to support freedom of religion is one, effective way of doing so.

Congratulations to Max Eisen for his remarkable life and his award-winning book. 

Have any of you read the book? Are you planning to do so?

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Thursday, March 28, 2019

The Sistine Chapel and Creative Writing

 The Sistine Chapel: a rare behind-the-scenes look at how its masterpieces are maintained
Through the years I've had to be a "churner" in terms of writing, at least to a degree, as most clergy must be. I always enjoyed sermon writing, but the roughly 1800 words a week was relentless. Then there were special services in the liturgical year, and funeral homilies, reports for meetings, presentations. And don't forget blog entries for the past dozen years. 

I've tried to be both as creative and faithful as possible, but this is a lot of cumulative holy blah, blah, blah piling up in the corners of life. There just isn't the time to craft every phrase and develop every thought in a way which does them or God justice. I've often yearned for a good editor.

I read the beginning of an article in the Wall Street Journal which I can't access in full because I'm not a subscriber. It's written by Cullen Murphy and it's called The Sistine Chapel: A Rare Behind-the-Scenes Look at How Its Masterpieces Are Maintained. The first few sentences impressed me and served as a reminder that the careful crafting of words is a discipline, and for clergy should be a spiritual practice:

The user’s manual for the Multitel SMX 250 self-propelled tracked platform, known as the Spider, does not contain an operational setting for “reverence,” but the Spider’s telescopic arm extended toward the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, 68 feet above, at a gently liturgical pace. My vestments consisted of a safety helmet and a full-body harness secured to the Spider’s basket by a chain and carabiner.  

This is brilliant, in my humble estimation and I wanted to read more.
There is a place for extemporaneous and Spirit-infused speech in communities of faith. And there has to be grace for those who fulfill the thousand tasks of ministry. Still, taking the time to write as though it really matters for the recipients' eyes and ears is something to which we can aspire. Paint-by-numbers has its place, but surely the Sistine Chapel is our lofty goal.


Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Habitat for Belleville

Image result for bob clute honoured
 Bob Clute

When the faith coalition in Belleville was in the process of applying to sponsor Syrian refugees I had a conversation with Bob Clute who was at the that time the executive director for  the local Habitat for Humanity chapter. He knew we were sponsoring several families and wondered if a couple of them might be recipients of new builds in the community. Bringing this to fruition was not possible for a number of reasons, but I appreciated Bob's desire to welcome these newcomers. As providence would have it, some of the members of the sponsored families were involved in a Habitat construction project last year on the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory. These very new Canadians were lending a hand motivated by gratitude to a worthy household on a First Nation. 

At the recent tribute event for Bob Clute's retirement it was announced that the city of Belleville was donating land for future Habitat construction, a nice tribute to Bob's dedication and an important contribution by the city.

As many of you know, Habitat for Humanity began in the United States more than 40 years ago as a Christian housing ministry. It is now world-wide and two of its dedicated participants through the decades are former US president Jimmy Carter and his wife Roslyn. 

It's good to hear about what is happening locally as a partnership between compassionate citizens and a municipal government committed to create affordable housing.

Well done Bob, and Belleville Council!

Image result for jimmy carter habitat cartoon

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Cyclone Idai and Christian Compassion

 Image result for cyclone idai

When the rains come down,
and the winds circle around,
it can be cause for joy,
God of all creation.

But, when the winds are so high,
that they rip roofs off of homes,
and the water pours down in torrents,
there is no joy,
only loss
and death.

We pray for those killed
when Cyclone Idai battered
Mozambique, Malawi & Zimbabwe.
We pray the survivors,
clinging to trees and high places,
away from the high waters,
waiting for rescue.

We pray for those who are doing
all that they can,
with the resources they have,
to save as many as they can,
knowing that they need more,
to help more.

We pray for those grieving,
the deaths of those they love and
the loss of livelihood and home.

May help come, and may it come quickly—
that safety would be found,
and rebuilding would begin.

We pray, loving God,
that we might respond,
with all that we have, and who we are,
out of our security and our abundance,
to be a world that helps,
and in the days to come.

We pray for Mozambique,
We pray for Zimbabwe,
We pray for Malawi
their people,
their land,
their life.

A prayer in response to Cyclone Idai
 by the Right Rev. Richard Bott, United Church Moderator

On Sunday morning our minister, who also happens to be our son Isaac, encouraged the congregation to respond to the crisis in Mozambique with financial support. Cyclone Idai has devastated Mozambique, which is one of the poorest countries of the planet, along with inundating other east African nations. Hundreds died in the storms and flooding but the threat of disease could kill even more, and all infrastructure has been destroyed in some areas.

Isaac invited folk to pick up a sheet with information about how to respond, including prayer, and I thought of how many times I did the same over my decades in ministry. Responding to situations of crisis is something which the United Church does well, and considers it part of Christ's call to "love our neighbour as ourselves."

Now that I'm in the pew rather than the pulpit I was even more aware that amongst the many reasons to be part of a community of faith is the encouragement to compassion in ways that we might not be so inclined to do otherwise. Sitting in front of a television screen watching news of a disaster in a region we could struggle to find on a map is a passive exercise which might touch our hearts but not necessarily move us to action. Our denomination believes in "right thinking and right acting" and it's one of the reasons I hang in there with my involvement. 

How about you? What motivates you to respond to situations where practical compassion matters? Do you find that being part of a congregation is an impetus for action? 

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 Image result for cyclone idai map

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Waiting for a Miracle


While they're waiting for a
While they're waiting for a
While they're waiting for a miracle...
Chorus from Waiting for a Miracle by Bruce Cockburn

 This morning I'll be making an announcement to the congregation of which we're a part in Trenton about a study group I'll be leading, beginning this Wedneday. It will go like this: 

It’s a miracle that she survived the car crash.
His recovery from that illness was nothing short of a miracle.
It will be a miracle if the Leafs win the Stanley Cup again in my lifetime…
and I’m a Leafs fan!

We use the language of miracles commonly in everyday speech, but do we actually believe that the miracles of the bible occurred and that miracles still happen today?

In the United Church our faith tends to focus on “right thinking and right acting” as people who follow Jesus.

Yet some of the most exciting stories of our childhood faith were miracle stories such as the Exodus story of Moses parting the waters of the Red Sea to save the people of Israel. There is the lesser known story in 1st Hesitations of Baby Moses in the bathtub.
It’s also important to consider whether our “grown up” faith has room for a God who acts in Creation as a God of signs and wonders.
 Image result for jacalyn duffin medical miracles

During the three weeks of the study we'll be reading miracles stories from the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament and exploring whether miracles still happen. I'll bring in the work of Dr. Jacalyn Duffin, a hematologist at Queen's University who is an atheist yet is open to the possibility of miracles.  I've appreciated a recent book by Luke Timothy Johnson on the subject.

You're welcome to join us in an exploration of miracles starting this Wednesday morning and for two other sessions as we approach the great miracle of the resurrection on Easter morning. 

Any personal comments about miracles? 

 Image result for miracles god's presence and power in creation

Friday, March 22, 2019

Head Scarf for Harmony

 Image result for head scarf for harmony

A few years ago we were in the National Art Gallery of Canada in Ottawa and walked into a room which included paintings of Habitant women from another era in Quebec. Most of the women wore headscarves, as was the custom of the time. There were no angry protests in the room nor demands that these paintings of oppression be removed. 

Nor did anyone get up in arms when women wore hats to church in an earlier day, with special attention given to the "Easter bonnet." My mother loved wearing hats and did so well into her 80s.

Image result for women in 1960s church with easter bonnets

Some Islamophobes and white supremacists in our culture target Muslim women who choose to wear a head covering, often demeaning or threatening them in public places. There was a shocking photo of a armed man with a face covering (how ironic) following a woman to her mosque in Texas. His behaviour was legal in this "Christian" state.

Related image

Today, a week after the massacre of Muslims as they worshipped in New Zealand women there are wearing headscarves in solidarity with those who choose to do so for cultural and religious reasons. A doctor in Auckland, Thaya Ashman, came up with the Head Scarf for Harmony campaign after hearing about a woman who was too scared to go out as she felt her headscarf would make her a target for terrorism.“I wanted to say: ‘We are with you, we want you to feel at home on your own streets, we love, support and respect you’,” Ashman said. 

 One participant, Rachel MacGregor, said she had felt anxious going out with her head covered, with people staring when she entered her office building.“It’s given me for the first time an appreciation for what it must be like to be a minority and to wear clothing that perhaps the majority don’t normally wear.”

 I don't want any woman or girl to feel that they are required to wear a headscarf because a man has told them to do so. At the same time I believe in freedom of expression and that no woman should feel threatened by bigots who decide that doing so is wrong.

At the Peace Vigil in Belleville on Wednesday evening we sat behind a mother and daughter who are amongst the Syrian refugees sponsored by a number of faith communities. Both had their heads covered. Both were open and responded to us with smiles. The face of the little girl was radiant. Who am I to tell them that covering their heads is not acceptable?

God bless the women of New Zealand who have chosen to do this today.

 Habitant Family with Horse and Sleigh

Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Power of Reading Aloud


There was a lovely piece on CBC Radio's The Current on Monday about the benefits of finding an hour a day to read aloud to your children. "This tradition of reading aloud, it connects parents to children, and children to their children that they have, in this wonderful way with language and warmth," said Meghan Cox Gurdon, the children's book critic for the Wall Street Journal. "It's just such a lovely kind of braid of time, and books, and people, and generations," she told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti. Cox Gurdon has written a book on the subject called The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction.

Reading aloud is something we did with our children and and now with our grandchildren. 

The interview went beyond reading to kids with the reminder that there are benefits to reading to our elders, something I also did with my mother as her dementia deepened. 

It also brought to mind a bible study at the beginning of my ministry. In 1980 we moved from downtown Toronto to outport Newfoundland, a culture shock in many ways. In one of the five communities I served we began a study with eight to ten women and it turned out that several of the middle-aged and older members were virtually illiterate. When I first suggested we go around the circle to read scripture passages I was met with embarrassed silence from those who could barely read. It hadn't occurred to me that this might be the case, although I discovered through the years that semi-literacy is more prevalent than we might imagine. 

We persevered mainly because of the encouragement of the other members. Getting through the passages could be laborious, yet we managed, and our studies became a remedial reading course as well. The sense of accomplishment for the women and the affirmation of other participants was quite moving. 

God was powerfully present in those moments. 


Forests and faith in today's Groundling blog

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Sanctuary and a Vigil for Peace

 Image result for christchurch death toll

This evening we'll walk ten minutes down the street to the Lutheran church to attend what is being called a Peace Vigil for the 50 people slain and the many others injured in cowardly attacks on mosques in New Zealand this past Friday. This will be one of many held around the world and I'm grateful for the organizers here, which includes an interfaith group.

I imagine that many of the attendees will have participated in a march and rally here in Belleville after the a similar assault on Muslims at prayer in Quebec City in January of 2017. The white supremacist killer in New Zealand made reference to the murderer from Quebec in his twisted manifesto, which reminds us that hate begets hate. 

I trust that today's gathering will be an affirmation of solidarity with the Muslim community here as well as offering support to those who suffered loss in Christchurch. When several Christian groups began the process of sponsoring Syrian refugees in 2015 members of the local mosque quickly became involved and were an "Allah-send," as I was inclined to say. We learned mutual respect and affection as we provided sanctuary to vulnerable newcomers.

As we reel from the horror of the slaughter of people of faith in their place of worship we can affirm the strengths of compassion and love which crosses the boundaries of religion. We decry hatred and suspicion and uphold what is honorable and decent.  

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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Giving up Distraction, and Outrage, for Lent

 Image result for lenten denial

It's 14 days since Lent commenced and I've managed to keep one on of my commitments for this liturgical season, at least so far. I have restricted myself to an hour's use of my phone, or less, each day. Given that we don't have a landline and our family texts with one another a fair amount I'm pleased. 

I described this as "giving up distraction" for Lent and that has actually occurred, to a large extent. Of course I can fudge and look at Twitter at my computer if I choose, or do many other tasks which I might do on the phone otherwise. But I find I don't fritter away time in mindless diversion or even what I perceive as useful stuff. I'm reading an 800 page historical novel at the moment and previously I would have stopped repeatedly to look up references or check background information for the era. Since I'm not doing this I stay with the narrative thread and keep on reading...what a concept!

 Image result for lenten denial cartoons

There is a valuable if inadvertent side effect to this commitment, which is "giving up outrage" for Lent. It wasn't my intention, but restricting the use of social media lowers the temperature of my indignation about circumstances and people. Face it, the Trump outrage is virtually daily and can actually alter several times within a day. To be blunt, the man is a misogynistic, racist, narcissist without ceasing. Knowing his consistency, why would I choose to wind myself up in a perverse version of Groundhog Day? I'm managing to stay informed about our world without unending immersion in negativity. Surely Christ's call to justice doesn't require me or any of us to be wading in the muck in real time? Praying without ceasing isn't outrage without ceasing.

Where will this take me, once Lent is over? I'm not sure but I'm convince that this is better for my spirit. 

 Image result for lenten denial cartoons

Monday, March 18, 2019

Alex, Betty and Cancer

 Image result for alex trebek

A couple of weeks ago we pulled the plug on cable TV and went with a streaming service instead. Before we did I had to find out whether we'd still get the quiz show, Jeopardy -- we do. Alex Trebek has been the host of Jeopardy for 35 years and at age 78 he has another three years on his contract, so he must love his work. 

I have a tenuous connection with Alex who was born in Sudbury, Ontario and as a child lived for a time with his father in the Nickel Range Hotel. When the hotel closed the barber shop moved into St. Andrew's Place, the multi-purpose building owned by the St. Andrew's congregation where I was pastor for eleven years. How is that for, say, sixty-six degrees of separation? 

 Image result for nickel range hotel sudbury

Fans of the show and of Alex were shocked to hear that he has been diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. This is one of the deadliest forms of cancer and symptoms don't become apparent until it is well advanced. Only a small percentage of those afflicted make it to five years. 

Alex bravely told the world about his diagnosis before a televised match and included this statement:

Now, normally, the prognosis for this is not very encouraging, but I'm going to fight this. And I'm going to keep working and with the love and support of my family and friends -- and with the help of your prayers also -- I plan to beat the low survival rate statistics for this disease.  

I applaud his courage, which brought to mind Betty, an active member of a congregation I served. When she was diagnosed I assumed that she would step down as chair-elect for the congregational board. Instead she decided to proceed and fulfilled her term. Betty was part of a lively group of women which included Ruth, my wife, who joined for supper and conversation and laughter on a regular basis until within a few weeks of her eventual death.

She lived long enough and with sufficient vigour that doctors considered her a medical marvel. She was relentlessly positive, but I recall sitting with her in her home as she told me that she was too weary to carry on with the endless treatment experiments. She was bathed in constant prayer by her faith community and when the end came it was with loving family and friends around her. 

God bless Alex, thank God for Betty's witness, and God be with all those who live bravely with cancer.


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Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Celts and Fresh Beginnings

 Image result for st patrick contemporary art
 Sister Mary Grace Thul, O.P. 

Bless to me, O God,
Each thing mine eye sees;
Bless to me, O God,
Each sound mine ear hears;
Bless to me, O God,
Each odour that goes to my nostrils
Bless to me, O God,
Each taste that goes to my lips;
Each note that goes to my song,
Each ray that guides my way,
Each thing that I pursue.
Each lure that tempts my will,
The zeal that seeks my living soul.
The Three that seek my heart,
The zeal that seeks my living soul,
The Three that seek my heart.

Rising Prayer
I've mentioned that earlier this year I led a three-week study of Celtic Christianity with a group of 15 souls from Trenton United Church, our home congregation.  I've led studies on this subject several times through the years in different congregations I served as pastor, so I wasn't sure I wanted to go down that path again. I'm glad I did, with new insights for me, and the discovery of resources which are either recently published or previously unknown.

They include:

The Brendan Voyage -- Tim Severin
The Four Elements: Reflections on Nature -- John O'Donohue
Thomas Merton and the Celts -- Monica Weis

Amongst those insights is that Celtic communal worship took place outside for centuries, even as churches were being built. Often churches were built in the midst of trees which were of significance. And the Celtic Christians who were called to the "eremitic" or hermit life, rather than the "cenobitic" or communal life would enter into praise and contemplation in the elements. 

This Spring I will begin offering worship experiences outside, which I've planned to do for a while. As a result of the study group I'm aware that I'll be offering an "old/new" opportunity which springs from a deep tradition. Of course, Jesus held a few worship experiences out-of-doors himself.  

Happy St. Patrick's Day.

Bless to me, O God, the moon that is above me.
Bless to me, O God, the earth that is beneath me,
Bless to me, O God, my wife and my children,
And bless, O God, myself who have care of them... 

Rest Benediction 

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Saturday, March 16, 2019

Jesuit Priorities

 Pope Francis greets Father Arturo Sosa Abascal, superior general of the Society of Jesus

There has been a lot of news about the ugly side of the Roman Catholic church of late, all of it deserved, it seems to me. The multi-generational sexual abuse of children and women (including nuns) around the world, and the systemic cover-up by those who were entrusted with their care is gut-wrenching. 

In the midst of this the superior of the Jesuits, one branch of Roman Catholicism, presented four priorities for the members of the Society of Jesus over the next ten years. Pope Francis approved these four universal "apostolic preferences" recently.They are:
  1. To show the way to God through discernment and the Spiritual Exercises;
  2. To walk with the poor, the outcasts of the world, those whose dignity has been violated, in a mission of reconciliation and justice;
  3. To accompany young people in the creation of a hope-filled future;
  4. To collaborate in the care of our Common Home.
The Ignatian spiritual exercises are the traditional contemplative practices of the Jesuits. The Common Home refers to Laudato Si, Pope Francis' encyclical on Creation Care. When I look at these I am hopeful. While I might choose another approach to contemplation I can see the importance of all four of these priorities in my life as a Christian. 

I commend the Jesuits for endorsing these four preferences and I hope they are salt, light, and leaven for the Roman Catholic church. 

 Image result for laudato si

Friday, March 15, 2019

Planting Seeds of Contemplation

Out of the blue our three-year-old grandson assumed this pose and told his dad "you do this, put your hands together, and think about Jesus...that's called yoga." That's his six-year-old brother emulating the pose in the background. While I'm willing to admit that I'm slightly biased as a doting grandpa, I think this is adorable. 

Our grandlads go to a French school which is also Roman Catholic. Their Protestantism is being flavoured with Catholicism, and that's where he learned this form of prayer. The boys are being made aware of the liturgical year at school, including Ash Wednesday. The Holiday Concert is actually a Christmas Concert with --wait for it-- Baby Jesus!

I'm fascinated that they start so early with a contemplative practice for the children. Interestingly, many public, secular schools are including mindfulness exercises these days, which feels like de-religionized prayer to me. Of course God in any expression is anathema in schools these days, but entering into a reflective state is encouraged and perhaps necessary.

Not long ago CBC radio's The Sunday Edition did a piece on the rising incidence of "acting out" by students in Canadian schools, including violence against other students and teachers. The episode resulted in the highest response of any they had done, and many of the respondents were teachers who had been subjected to violence by students.

We live in a culture where there are so many bright, creative kids, many of whom are motivated to help others. At the same time we are seeing a massive decrease in connection with institutions which encourage empathy, civility, and calm. For all their faults, churches/synagogues/mosques/temples have traditionally offered this. And most of them invite people of all ages into prayer of some form. 

I'm in favour of just about any form of contemplation and I have practiced yoga along the way myself. While my own choice is Christ-focused prayer and meditation there is much to be learned from other traditions. 

I've been looking at a book called Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness With Children by Thich Nhat Hanh and the Plum Village Community. At Plum Village in France children are invited into Buddhist meditation. Thich Nhat Hanh notes that children are often told to "pay attention" by parents and teachers without being taught what attention is. The kids learn walking meditation, and are encouraged to be okay with boredom -- what a concept in our "always on" culture!

I like the guided meditation from the book which includes these phrases:

Smiling to my body, I breath in.
Easing my body, I breathe out.
Smiling to my body, I breathe in.
Releasing the tension in my body, I breathe out.
Feeling joy to be alive, I breathe in.
Feeling happy I breathe out.

Ahhhh. Just typing this made a difference to my state of being. I figure Jesus would approve. 


 Image result for planting seeds practicing mindfulness

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Scamming a Future

20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now,
    for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh...

24 “But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have received your consolation.
25 “Woe to you who are full now,
    for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now,
    for you will mourn and weep.

Luke 6 NRSV

A few years ago I attended a Bridges Out of Poverty seminar sponsored by the Poverty Roundtable in Belleville. It was very worthwhile and a reminder of the unthinking privilege of the middle and upper classes. People with little money tend to live from day to day, and their love for children is often expressed in meeting daily needs, including food and shelter. They don't always have the resources or energy for longer term planning. Middle class people will save for the education of their children and talk with friends about what or who their kids aspire to be. If their children make mistakes or lose focus they can literally buy a do-over through legal support or help a child who drops out of college reset goals.

This is not an option for those in poverty, and one significant mistake can change the course of a life. In some lower income families no one has ever attended college or university so a child with aspirations may not receive a lot of encouragement because there is no precedent, although often parents do make considerable sacrifices. In Ontario the free tuition program was a life-line for students with lower incomes but that has been scrapped by the current "for the people" government. To me this is a bias against those with lower incomes who are attempting to get ahead.

Actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman are among dozens of people indicted in a sweeping U.S. college admissions bribery scandal

All this came to mind when I heard that a scam to buy places at elite universities in the States has been exposed and charges laid against the "fixers" and parents involved. It wasn't enough that they had the wealth to send their kids to good schools. They were willing to spend tends of thousands of dollars to have their children jump the queue ahead of more qualified students. This was all done under the guise of a charity, and if someone hadn't blown the whistle it may have continued for years. It really is shameful.

What I learned again at the Bridges Out of Poverty event was that what I consider normal is not the reality for far too many. Even though I grew up in a family of modest income my parents encouraged education and "way back when" I could note my father's alumni connection for one university to which I applied.

In the gospels Jesus is "for the people" in thought, word, and deed. He also encouraged us all to open our eyes and recognize the need for justice and compassion.  If we read the Beatitudes honestly we'll recognize a call for equal opportunity.